Cambodia and the US have shared their optimism at the future of their bilateral relations, following an August 31 meeting between US ambassador W Patrick Murphy and the Kingdom’s new Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Sok Chenda Sophea.

Both Murphy and Chenda Sophea expressed their commitment to enhancing the two countries’ partnership during their ‘productive’ two-hour exchange of views and discussions, said the foreign ministry in a September 3 statement.

The statement also highlighted their mutual appreciation and deep satisfaction resulting from the exchange.

“Both sides reaffirmed their commitment to strengthening the bonds of friendship and cooperation, and touched upon various aspects of bilateral ties,” it said.

Chenda Sophea conveyed his gratitude for the assistance offered by the US government in promoting socio-economic development across Cambodia.

Murphy recalled Cambodia’s active contribution during its ASEAN chairmanship last year, when the ASEAN-US Dialogue Partner status was elevated to a “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership”.

The ambassador and Chenda Sophea also discussed their cooperation within multilateral platforms such as the ASEAN and UN frameworks. They touched on the details of an upcoming meeting between Prime Minister Hun Manet and US acting deputy secretary of state Victoria Nuland on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in the US’ New York City this September.

They exchanged views on regional and international issues of mutual interest, and expressed satisfaction with their collaboration under the US-Mekong partnership. The meeting took place three days after Manet met with a US Congressional Staff delegation on August 28.

Sokvy Rim, a research fellow at the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace, observed positive developments stemming from the meeting between the US delegation and the new prime minister.

He believed that Cambodia had exhibited a conciliatory stance, aiming to sustain and enhance cooperation with the US.

He offered a suggestion on how the bilateral relationship could be strengthened.

“Cambodia should fortify its government system pertaining to human rights and democracy,” he said. “On the other hand, the US should respect Cambodia’s sovereignty, and refraining from using China as an impediment in their relationship.”

Sokvy was optimistic about the future of the relationship, and believes it may improve under the new government.

Thong Mengdavid, a research fellow at the Asian Vision Institute’s Mekong Centre for Strategic Studies, said the state of the Kingdom’s relationship with the US can vary depending on the US administration that is in place.

During the Trump administration, the relationship appeared positive, he said, noting that during the Biden administration, tensions arose due to US criticism of Cambodia’s approach to democracy and human rights implementation.

Nonetheless, he also noted that the recent shift in the US tone appeared to indicate a strong commitment to enhancing relations with Cambodia, particularly following the nation’s transition to the new government led by Manet.

“Cambodia and the US should explore the possibility of establishing a comprehensive development framework to encourage market and trade research, enhance human resources and technology, and improve institutional and legal skills,” he said.

He added that the US should extend the hand of cooperation to Cambodia, upholding the principles of equality and sovereignty, instead of exerting pressure and making accusations regarding democracy, human rights and the matter of an alleged Chinese naval base.

Seun Sam, an international relations researcher at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, noted that strengthening the relationship has been challenging due to numerous conditions by the US.

He said these conditions have proven difficult for Cambodia to meet, resulting in a fluctuating relationship.

He said historically, the nation has consistently sought positive relations with the US.

“In my view, the relationship may not see future improvements because the US consistently sets preconditions. Consequently, we find it challenging to anticipate progress, despite Manet’s visits to the US,” he said.

“Given that the relationship has been largely influenced by national interests, it is likely to persist in its current state. Previous Cambodian leaders also had the same willingness, but it remained the same,” he expained.

Manet is scheduled to participate in the 78th UNGA in mid-September in New York City. He will also attend a business gathering hosted by the US-ASEAN Business Council, and is expected to engage in meetings with various US leaders.